The Elimination Game


You are Benedict Cumberbatch, surrounded by big machines that whirr and beep. Sentences are crunched through ticker tape, and you feverishly try to figure out the meaning behind them. Your mission: you want to decode SAT Grammar. This is The Elimination Game, and you’re the star.

What exactly is The Elimination Game? Well, it is more than a name; it is a process for disposing bad answers and focusing your mind on correct ones. This procedure is especially important for the SAT Writing section because there are many ways students can rationalize bad answers as correct ones. Overall, the purpose behind eliminating not only lies in reducing your time spent on problems (and stress) but also in making educated choices--DUH.

Let’s say that there are three types of answer choices: ones with obvious errors, ones with subtle errors, and ones that have no errors (because they are correct). Answers with obvious errors are the ones that have a clear grammatical mistake. This typically appears in the form of overwhelming wordiness or awkwardness in the phrasing. Wordiness/awkwardness accounts for many choices in how students determine the correctness of an answer, but it should not be the only method. One way that answers have obvious problems is that they include words that the SAT nearly always deems as “poor usage” -- words like “being” -- or the answers include one of the main error types quizzed on the test. Here’s an example of a sentence correction problem:

Scenes from the everyday lives of African Americans, which are realistically depicted in the paintings of Henry Ossawa Tanner. (A) Scenes from the everyday lives of African Americans, which are realistically depicted in the paintings of Henry Ossawa Tanner.

(B) Scenes from the everyday lives of African Americans being realistically depicted in the paintings of Henry Ossawa Tanner.

(C) The paintings of Henry Ossawa Tanner realistically depict scenes from the everyday lives of African Americans.

(D) Henry Ossawa Tanner, in his realistic paintings, depicting scenes from the everyday lives of African Americans.

(E) Henry Ossawa Tanner, whose paintings realistically depict scenes from the everyday lives of African Americans.

You read the sentence and immediately notice one obvious problem: the sentence has no verb, so it is a fragment. Let's review the answers:

  • Answer choice A immediately goes away.

  • Answer choice B has the exact same problem. Also, there is a problem word -- “being” -- that lets you know that the sentence has issues.

  • Answer choice C is, in fact, not a sentence fragment. The main verb is “depict,” so you should feel pretty confident that it is correct.

  • Answer choices D and E are both fragments! There are no verbs!

Harder answers to eliminate require that you use more to decode the meaning of the sentence. The SAT Grammar does not just want good usage and correct mechanics; it also seeks sentences that use language in a logical manner. Here is an example of another sentence correction problem:

Looking up from the base of the mountain, the trail seemed more treacherous than it really was.

(A) Looking up

(B) While looking up

(C) By looking up

(D) Viewing

(E) Viewed

It may seem like all of the answers are correct, because they all are essentially using the same words “Looking” and “View.” So then what do you do? Well, let’s look at the subject of the sentence, which is “trail.” What can a trail do? Can it look? Does it have eyes? NOPE. So basically, any action in the sentence that makes it seem like the trail is looking at something is wrong. The whole first part of the sentence acts like an adjective for the word "trail," so the best answer is “Viewed” because a trail can be viewed (by someone).

When eliminating answers, you should first always try to kill answers with obvious errors, and then you need to make sure your response is logical. Other than that, make sure you are familiar with the error types. Never go off what “sounds correct.” If you do, then the enemy will win; the SAT will take over USA and Europe, and Benedict Cumberbatch will not save the day -- or make computers, but that is another tale for another day.

(image credit: The Imitation Game, fandango.com)

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